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How Smart Grid Helps Fight Crime

Smart grid as a crime fighting tool: Who would’ve guessed? Not the folks at Georgia’s Tri-State EMC—even though it turned out to be an extra benefit of their smart grid efforts.

By: Michael W. Kahn |

Tri-State used a federal smart grid investment grant to help pay for projects that otherwise would have taken 10 to 15 years to accomplish. Its success was cited in the recent White House report “A Policy Framework for the 21st Century Grid: A Progress Report,” prepared by the National Science and Technology Council.

David Lewis, IT manager at Blue Ridge, Ga.-based Tri-State, said the grant enabled the co-op to change out some 15,500 electro-mechanical meters to solid state AMI meters. That, in turn, allows it to offer members new programs, including use monitoring, prepaid metering, and remote connect and disconnect.

“It gives folks a way to look at their use, modify what they’re doing, and see what kind of results they get,” said Lewis. By changing their behaviors—things such as lowering the heat or turning off lights—members can almost immediately see themselves saving energy and money.

Usage monitoring also yielded unexpected benefits, such as members discovering a problem well before their bill arrives.

“They see their use go up for a couple of days and they say, ‘Wait, something’s up,’” said Lewis. Members then begin looking for the culprit.

“Maybe their heat pump is not working properly. Maybe they’ve got a water leak and their pump is running all the time,” Lewis cited as examples.

Or perhaps there’s been a burglary.

“We had one lady who saw her usage go up maybe 10, 15 kilowatt-hours,” Lewis said of a member who owns a second home served by Tri-State.

“She found out her home had been broken into. The reason it was using more electricity was they’d broken the sliding glass door, and the heat was coming on and off.”

When sheriff’s deputies asked the woman when the break-in occurred, she checked her use. “She was able to narrow it down to within a day, because the use went up,” Lewis said.

Some 650 members are on prepay, and more than 900 members have signed up for use monitoring. They are able to see just how much electricity they are using—and what it costs them—on a daily basis.

“Before, when they would get a $300 bill, a lot of folks would say, ‘There is no way I used $300 this month,’” Lewis said. “With this, every day you’re seeing how much you use. So when folks see they use $10, the first thing that comes in their head is, ‘That’s $300 a month!’”

The smart meters are also improving service for members. As the White House report noted, “With the new metering system, the company knows instantly when and where outages occur. As a result, Tri-State spends less money to provide more reliable service and ultimately passes along the savings to its customers.”